Food pyramid for babies and toddlers

Food Pyramid for Toddlers - Mama Knows Nutrition

Do you remember learning about the food pyramid as a kid?? I remember learning it, and then promptly not caring about it AT ALL because I didn’t want some triangle telling me what foods to eat. Because I was a kid and I just wanted pop-tarts and Lucky Charms.

Guidelines have changed a lot since then, but people still wonder about the food pyramid for toddlers (as in, what to feed when they move past the baby stage and are done with bottles and boobs!) They’re a real human now, eating “real people” food, and it feels like you’re feeding them ALL THE TIME.

So, what should a toddler eat?

Enter: the food pyramid for toddlers!

What is the food pyramid for toddlers?

Real quick, just in case you didn’t grow up with this food group framework, it’s worth explaining that the food pyramid for toddlers is another way of breaking down the nutritional requirements of toddlers and kids ages 2-5. They’ve since changed it to MyPlate, and no longer use the pyramid depiction. It lists the official daily needs guidelines as per the USDA, as they relate to the food groups.

There are 5 food groups for toddlers and kids, which are:

  • Fruit
  • Veggies
  • Grains
  • Protein
  • Dairy

It can be a really handy guide, and it’s great to keep in your toolkit as you go about meal planning and preparing food for your kids.

How To Use the Food Pyramid for Toddlers

A few notes when considering the Food Pyramid for toddlers:

1. I’m still calling it the Food Pyramid even though it’s no longer called that by the USDA because people search for it on google, so I’m just trying to help everyone find the right info.

2. This is a guide and NOT a prescription. Your child may eat more or less than these amounts on different days (or always), and I do NOT suggest limiting or restricting them in any way. Read this post to understand more about that.

3. The 1,000 calorie suggestion is an average amount for this age, but in reality, your toddler’s eating will likely vary widely. Don’t be surprised when some days it’s less than that, and some days it’s more.

4. You do want to offer a balance of food groups at meals as much as possible, but it is expected for a toddler or preschooler to heavily favor carbohydrate foods. That’s totally ok!

Even as a dietitian, I never measure or count my kids’ food to make sure they get enough from each group. I do a mental checklist in my head instead of what I’m offering. Fruit and/or veggie? Check. Some sort of starchy carb? Check. Meat or non-meat protein? Check. And I always aim for a healthy fat, too.

What about fats? Are they good for toddlers and kids?

Interestingly, both the old food pyramid and the MyPlate plan totally skip over fat, besides saying to limit saturated fat. But I kind of disagree with this. Fat is brain fuel! We need it, and so do our kids. And as long as we stick to the right amounts of the healthy fats, they can totally have them.

Here are the fats I recommend for toddlers:

  • Avocado
  • Nuts and/or seeds (either as nut butter or ground up and sprinkled on things).
  • My go-to favorites are peanut butter, almond butter, sunflower seed butter, ground cashews (often stirred into yogurt), ground walnuts mixed into breading (like for chicken tenders or crusted fish), and ground flax and chia in oatmeal.
  • Butter (Not exactly a health food but there are much worse things, and I’m okay with a little butter every day)
  • Cooking Oils. I like avocado oil, olive oil, coconut oil, and sunflower oil
  • Coconut butter (Warm it up and it becomes liquid. SO GOOD on toast!)
  • Fatty fish, like salmon
  • Cheese
  • Whole milk
  • Whole milk yogurt
  • Egg yolks

More On the 5 Food Groups for Toddlers

Fruits (#1) & Veggies (#2)

Fun fact: fruit offers the same nutrients as veggies.

I’ll be honest, my kids don’t get close to 1 cup of veggies most days, because there are only a few veggies they like. That’s normal for toddlers. Instead of stressing over what they’re not getting, I recommend focusing on veggie exposure (read this post for ideas) and letting go of the pressure of eating a certain amount.

Fresh vs. Frozen

For both fruit and veggies, fresh is great, but frozen and canned are healthy choices too. Just watch out for unnecessary added salt and sugars. (Freeze dried fruit is also a GREAT snack for toddlers, and doesn’t have any added sugar).

Here are a few things to look for when you’re shopping:

  • Canned Veggies: Low or no added salt
  • Canned/Packaged Fruit: “Packed in 100% juice or water” (not syrup!)


Grains (also known as starches and carbohydrates) are a super important (and generally preferred) food group for toddlers.

And even though we all know of certain diets that try to vilify them, it’s important for you to know that grains are NOT bad, for you or your kids, in any way. Our bodies actually rely on the type of energy that grains provide for a lot of things. Your toddler needs that energy to run, play, and grow, among other things.

Big Note Here: You do not have to do 100% whole grain for everything. You want to make sure they’re getting a good amount of whole grains (some ideas below), but it’s okay if they have that boxed mac and cheese or wonder bread sandwich once in a while.

Here are my top choices for toddlers:

  • Oatmeal
  • Low sugar cereal (grab my guide here)
  • Rice (white, brown, wild)
  • Quinoa
  • Barley
  • Farro
  • Bread (we typically do either whole
    grain bread or sourdough, but get what you like!)
  • Corn
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Winter squash
  • Pasta
  • Whole grain waffles or pancakes

Of course there are others beyond what’s listed here, but that’s the basis of a healthy rotation of varied grains.


Notice the daily recommended amount is only 2 ounces of meat(around 2-3 tablespoons), which is a really easy amount for your little one to get! That means you don’t need to overthink protein sources for your toddler.

Also, protein doesn’t necessarily mean meat! If your toddler doesn’t eat meat (either because they don’t want to, or your family chooses not to), that’s okay. In that case, I highly recommend reading this post so you know how to provide all the nutrients that come from meat in other ways.


This category includes milk, yogurt, and cheese.

How much dairy to give a toddler:

I suggest limiting milk to 16 oz (the equivalent of 2 cups) a day, but if they eat a lot of other dairy, you may even cut back to one cup a day. This is because too much milk can fill them up and prevent them from getting a good variety of other necessary nutrients. It can also increase picky eating.

What types of dairy to give a toddler:

  • Until your child is 2 years old, serve whole milk. Note: Even if you reduce the AMOUNT of milk you give your toddler for the reasons explained above, don’t switch the TYPE of milk they get under they’re older. I do NOT recommend fat-free milk for toddlers.
  • Once your child is 2 years old (or older), you can choose to continue with whole, or switch to low fat.

For more about milk, see this post.

Want to learn more about what to feed your toddler?

Here are a few of my favorite resources:

  • To figure out how much they should be eating, read this post or watch this video.
  • For easy, balanced lunch ideas, check out my Healthy Packed Lunch Guide! It includes lists of no-prep, packable foods for each food group so it makes for the easiest, fastest, healthiest lunches! Perfect for daycare, preschool, or quick at-home lunches.

Want even more information, check out these posts:

The 48 Best Healthy Snack Ideas for Kids and Toddlers

How Much Sugar is Okay for Toddlers?

Healthy Meal Plan for Picky Eaters

18 Healthy Toddler Breakfast Ideas

Toddler Food Pyramid – First 1000 Days

Healthy eating is about having a varied, balanced diet and enjoying lots of different foods. The food pyramid will help you choose a healthy and varied diet for your child.

Children can decide how much food they need, so don’t make them eat until their plates are empty.

The Toddler Food Pyramid:

Sparingly; Others

2: Meat, Fish and Alternatives.

3: Milk, Cheese, and Yoghurt.

2-4: Fruit and Vegetables.

4: Cereals, Bread and Potatoes.

Food groups

The following are suggested servings from each of the Food Pyramid shelves. Offer the recommended serving from each Food Pyramid shelf every day.





Recommended servings per day:

1-3 years: 4 servings

3-5 years: 4-6+ servings

1 Serving = any of the following

  • 1 slice of bread or a small bread roll
  • 1 small bowl of cereal (eg 30g variety size pack)
  • 2 cream crackers
  • 1 medium potato
  • 3 dessert spoons of boiled rice or pasta

Active children may need more servings from this food group to give them enough energy.

Remember — children’s appetites can vary, offer younger children smaller portion sizes more often.



Recommended servings per day:

1-3 years: 2-4 servings

3-4 years: 4 or more servings

5 years and over: 5 servings

1 Serving = any of the following

  • 1 medium sized fresh fruit for example
  • Small glass of unsweetened pure fruit juice — dilute with plenty of water
  • Small bowl of tinned fruit in natural juice, small bowl of chopped fruit, fresh fruit salad
  • 3 dessert-spoons of stewed fruit
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetables or 3 dessert-spoons of salad
  • Bowl of home-made vegetable soup



Recommended servings per day:

1-3 years: 3 servings

3-5 years: 3 servings

1 Serving = any of the following

  • 1 glass of full fat milk (1/3 pint of milk)
  • 1 carton of yoghurt
  • Matchbox sized piece of cheese (1oz)
  • 2 cheese slices
  • Small bowl of milk pudding
  • 2 fromage frais

Low fat milk is not suitable as the main drink for children under 2 years of age. You can gradually introduce it after 2 years of age provided your child is a good eater and has a varied diet. Skimmed milk is not suitable for children under 5 years.



Recommended servings per day:

1-3 years: 2 small servings

3-5 years: 2 servings

1 Serving = any of the following

  • Small pork or lamb chop
  • 2 slices roast or boiled meat
  • 2 slices of chicken or turkey
  • Medium fillet of fish
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 tablespoons of baked beans, peas, lentils



Foods such as sweets, chocolate, biscuits, cakes, fizzy drinks and savoury snacks, like crisps, are on the top shelf of the Food Pyramid.

These foods should not be a part of your child’s daily diet. Filling up on foods from this shelf spoils your child’s appetite for more nutritious food.

Sugary food and drinks are not good for your child’s teeth.



Fresh fruit such as pears, satsumas, bananas, kiwi fruit

Cheese cubes, slices

Crackers or rice cakes and cheese

Bread- toast, rolls, baps, pitta bread

Fruit brack, malt loaf, banana bread

Scones- plain, fruit or wholemeal

Small sandwiches


Fromage frais

Homemade milkshake using yoghurt and fruit

Unsweetened breakfast cereal with milk (don’t add sugar)

Homemade soup

Vegetable slices, sticks or wedges


Don’t give whole nuts and popcorn until your child is at least 5 years old — because of the danger of choking.

Healthy nutrition for children

The topic of food is always relevant, because healthy nutrition for children is a guarantee of overall health, activity and good mood of the baby. Eating habits are formed in childhood, so it is extremely important to form and instill healthy eating habits for children in the family from the very beginning of acquaintance with adult food. Children early begin to show interest in adult food, so what parents eat will depend on how the child begins to get used to the adult table. Of course, it is better if it is the right, healthy food, and not gastronomy and fast food.

Rules for healthy eating for children consist of many fundamental principles, the basic ones being simple:

  • soups without broths and fried foods;
  • simple meals are preferred over heavy multi-ingredient meals;
  • methods of heat treatment - boiling, baking, steaming;
  • lack of a large number of bakery products on the table;
  • minimizing sugar intake;
  • exclusion of unhealthy foods such as store-bought confectionery, soda, chips, and other food rich in coloring and preservatives.

The key to success in developing healthy eating habits for preschool children is that these principles should be the same for all family members, but often this is where difficulties arise. If the parents of a child relatively easily rearrange their diet to suit the principles of correctness, then grandparents, brought up on radically different eating habits, often create contradictions. So, the child is given something that is easier to feed him - a fried cutlet or sausage instead of a piece of meat or meatballs baked without oil. Necessary and healthy products for children are replaced by unnecessary “goodies”, which leads to the fact that after a while the child refuses normal food in favor of harmful food.

Healthy Eating Pyramid for Children

In order to adequately formulate the diet and include in it a maximum of healthy foods for children, you can use the healthy food pyramid. Its principle is the correlation of lifestyle, activity and age of a person with the amount of consumption of certain foods. The pyramid itself exists in two versions, old and updated. Since, due to the fact that people began to consume significantly fewer calories than they take with food, the old rules of nutrition are outdated, it is better to focus on the updated version. Such a pyramid consists of wedge-shaped segments of different colors, each of which implies a group of products. The broadest segments include the most useful products for children, narrower ones include those products that are also necessary, but should not be the basis of the diet.

So, the food pyramid consists of the following color groups:

  1. Orange color - cereals. This group of foods is high in carbohydrates, vitamins, fiber and low in fat. This includes cereals, bread, pasta.
  2. Green - vegetables. It is an invaluable source of nutrients that are best preserved when cooked raw or with minimal heat. You should especially lean on green and dark orange vegetables.
  3. Red color - fruits and berries. Whole fruits are preferable to sliced, pureed and juiced.
  4. Yellow color - fats, occupies a small segment. Moreover, the main amount of fat is recommended to be obtained from plant foods.
  5. Blue - dairy products. In addition to milk, this includes lactic acid products, cottage cheese, cheeses.
  6. Purple color combines legumes, eggs, fish and meat - foods high in protein and essential amino acids.

Related articles:

One year old menu

At the age of one year, the child should "say goodbye" to the mother's breast or infant formula, gradually moving to a good nutrition. Of course, it is still far from adult food, but it should be quite varied and nutritious. Let's talk about the menu for a one-year-old baby and give an example of a weekly diet.

How long can the prepared formula be stored?

Good nutrition in infancy is a very important aspect of a child's healthy development. If the baby is bottle-fed, parents often have a question about the shelf life of the finished mixture. Let's talk about this in more detail.

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Healthy nutrition pyramid: structure and types


  • Introduction
  • Harvard pyramid - the beginning of the beginning
  • New MyPyramid
  • Children's pyramid
  • Vegetarians have their own pyramid
  • Other pyramids
  • Conclusion


People have understood this for a long time. At the beginning of the last century, for the first time there were attempts to divide all food products into groups, taking as a basis their benefits to humans.

The first model depicting the principles of proper nutrition was proposed by nutritionists from the USA in 1992 year.

It looked like a pyramid. At the base were products that bring maximum benefit to human health. As we moved to the top, their value decreased, and the least useful food was at the very top.

The more new knowledge appeared in the field of nutrition, the more the pyramid of proper nutrition changed and improved. New types of schemes have emerged that take into account the peculiarities of food consumption by people of different nationalities, as well as certain segments of the population, for example, vegetarians or children.

In our article you can learn more about the different types of food pyramids. We hope that reading the article will be useful not only for those who have decided to embark on the path of healthy eating, but also for those who are already firmly on this path.

The Harvard Pyramid - the beginning of the beginning

The earliest and most famous was the food scheme created by the Harvard School of Public Health (1992). The leader is Walter Willett, an American professor of nutrition.

The Harvard Healthy Eating Pyramid considers it the main one and places it on the very first step:

  • physical activity;
  • adequate fluid intake;
  • regular weighing.

Second stage: cereals, vegetables and fruits, and vegetable oils.

Why should they be eaten daily? Let's consider this question in more detail.

  • Cereals, bread and other wholemeal flour products, brown rice contain "long carbohydrates", therefore they provide more energy than other products.
  • Vegetable oils (sunflower, olive, corn, sesame, etc.) are sources of polyunsaturated fatty acids.
  • PUFAs are very necessary for the body, as they help normalize blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, burn saturated fats, thereby contributing to weight loss, help fight various inflammations and perform many other useful functions.
  • Even kids know that vegetables and fruits are healthy. Vegetables can be eaten without quantity restrictions, and fruits - no more than 3 servings per day.

Third step: proteins, legumes and nuts are located here.

Nuts and legumes are plant foods that contain protein. It must be consumed at least once a day.

Proteins are proteins of animal origin. To enrich the body with them, we eat eggs, fish or poultry 1-2 servings a day.

Milk products have settled on the fourth step. Kefir, fermented baked milk, cheese, yogurt and other "milk" is enough to consume 1-2 times during the day.

Fifth stage. Here are located: sweet delicacies, rolls, red meat, sausages, margarine, butter, white rice, potatoes. That is, everything that it is desirable to refuse, well, or consume very moderately.

The Harvard food pyramid allows a little bit of alcohol and not for everyone. It also allows you to take multivitamins, but only on the recommendation of a doctor.

All people are different, and everyone has their own level of needs. Therefore, it should be remembered that the food pyramid of nutrition is just the basis, based on which you can create an individual diet for a particular person.

New pyramid MyPyramid

Russian scientists have not yet developed their own food scheme. They support the MyPyramid project, developed by nutritionists from America, while taking into account the differences in food preferences of Russians and Americans.

MyPyramid is the result of numerous changes and additions to the Harvard scheme, which appeared in 2007.

The new food pyramid is something completely different from all its predecessors. There are no “steps” here, but there are principles on which it is based. There are only five of them:

  1. the principle of diversity;
  2. proportionality;
  3. individuality;
  4. moderation;
  5. physical activity.

The principle of diversity means that a person can eat all foods without exception, unless, of course, he has allergies to them or other contraindications. In MyPyramid, each food group has a segment of a certain color:

The principle of proportionality is expressed in the fact that the correct ratio of food consumed should be observed. In the diagram, this is shown by different segment widths. For example, the yellow segment (fats) is the narrowest, therefore, for a balanced diet, there should be less fat in the diet than everything else.

The principle of individuality. People have different food preferences, they differ in age, gender, etc. Using the data of the pyramid, you can choose an individual diet for any individual person.

The principle of moderation says: "Everything is good in moderation." In order to keep your body in good shape, you should not overeat, but you also do not need to starve yourself. Compliance with the correct diet will invariably give its positive result.

The principle of physical activity goes hand in hand with all the previous principles. The man in the diagram, climbing the steps to the top of the pyramid, shows that "varied food + physical activity = healthy and beautiful body. "

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Children's "pyramid"

The food pyramid for children is not particularly different from that of adults. The difference is only in the width and number of segments.

The Healthy Eating Pyramid for Children helps create menus for the younger generation of all ages. What does it include?

1. Dairy products

They form the basis of children's food up to 3 years of age. This sector is wider than all the others in the "pyramid". On the day the baby should receive 400-600 grams of fermented milk products.

2. Fruits-vegetables

The vegetables and fruits sector is approximately equal in width to the dairy products sector. As the child grows, the number of fruits and vegetables in his daily menu increases.

Fruit and vegetable juices are a good addition to baby food.

3. Meat

His child must eat without fail, even if his parents are vegetarians, since animal protein is the basis for building a growing organism.

Small children are best given boiled or steamed meat. Lean veal or beef, as well as turkey, are suitable for baby food.

4. Fish

Children's food "pyramid" allocates a separate sector for fish. After all, fish contains many essential trace elements, as well as easily digestible proteins.

Low-fat fish such as walleye, hake, cod or perch are suitable for baby food.

It is best to alternate fish and meat dishes in order to avoid an excess of protein in the child's body.

5. Cereals

Flour and cereal products must be included in the children's diet. Porridges, as well as wholemeal bread, will give the baby a boost of energy for a long time.

Buckwheat and oatmeal is a rich source of vitamins and microelements. They are suitable even for the smallest children. Older children can be given whole grain cereals, such as wheat or pearl barley.

Pasta made from durum wheat can be fed to a child, but not often.

6. Fats and oils

Represented in the diagram by a very narrow stripe. However, they have a great energy value and should be on the menu. A baby can receive a small amount of vegetable oil as a dressing in a salad, porridge or soup.

Children over 3 years of age can be fed little butter.

7. Eggs

In the children's food "pyramid" they have a separate, very small segment. The child needs them, as they supply him with vitamins A, D, E, trace elements and proteins. The norm for children is half an egg a day.

8. Sweets

Whereas the old scheme called for reducing sweets to a minimum, the new healthy eating pyramid does not consider sweets to be such a terrible sin. The main thing is that everything should be in moderation.

Chocolate should not be given to children under 3 years of age. If there is no allergy, then you can offer honey a little bit. But the best way out will be dried fruits: dried apricots and raisins. Cookies, marmalade and homemade jam in small quantities will do.

Vegetarians have their own pyramid

The vegetarian food pyramid, unlike traditional ones, does not insist that you can eat well only if you eat meat and milk, poultry, fish and eggs.

According to the pyramid, the diet of a vegetarian is based on cereals combined with legumes and cereals.

Animal protein contained in meat includes all the necessary set of amino acids, while plant foods lack one or the other. Therefore, only by combining and consuming beans and cereals at the same time, vegetarians can make up for the deficiency of amino acids in the body.

Vegetables and fruits are second in importance in a vegetarian diet.

Food rich in protein is the third step that this pyramid includes. This includes cheese, eggs, milk or low-fat cottage cheese, soy products, seeds, and nuts.

Well, at the very top are fats and sweets. You don’t have to cut them out of your diet completely, because they contain a lot of useful substances. It is better to be wise in their choice.

Unrefined vegetable and melted butter can be consumed from fats. And as sweets, you can eat bitter chocolate and dried fruits.

Other pyramids

Mediterranean pyramid. The basis is:

  • grain crops;
  • fruits;
  • vegetables;
  • vegetable oils.

Seafood and fish are in second place. But meat is recommended to consume no more than 1-2 times a week.

In Asia, vegetables, rice, soy products and green tea are considered the main ones.


To maintain health until old age, you should remember a simple rule: "Movement is life.

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